How to Train for Fall Hikes

hiking for health

As summer turns to fall, temperatures begin to drop and the leaves start to change colors. Both enhance the enjoyment and beauty of taking a hike. For many of us, fall foliage is a motivator to be more physically active, and for some it may be the first time all year that you get out and hike. Putting in some time to train prior to your fall hikes will help keep you injury free and will certainly add to the enjoyment.

How to Train for Hiking

Your hike can vary drastically from trail to trail, and it is important to train with some specificity to the hiking you plan to do. Regardless of trail type or length, however, there are some training fundamentals you can undertake to best prepare for any hike.

  • Utilize resistance training to build up leg and core strength prior to hiking. Strong legs will increase your ability to take on steeper terrain, both ascending and descending, while a strong core is necessary to support your pack.
  • Increase balance to better handle uneven terrain on the trail.
  • Increase endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular, to stay out on the trail longer.

Exercises to Train for Fall Hikes


One of the main lower body movements for building leg strength, as well as core stability. Squats can be performed using a variety of equipment such as a power rack, dumbbells, or kettlebells, and can even be performed using only your body weight. When performing squats, controlling your descent as you lower yourself will improve the strength utilized to descend steep trails, while standing back up during the contraction or concentric phase of the squat will give you strength for your ascent.

Walking Lunge:

A dynamic lower body strengthening movement, the walking lunge works on leg strength, balance, and can be used to work on endurance. Depending on your ability, walking lunges can be performed using extra weight such as a dumbbell or kettlebell to add extra stimulus. Perform a high number of repetitions such as 15-30 steps per leg to work on your muscular endurance, or add weight and work on building strength.

Box Step Up:

A single leg movement, box step ups mimic the ascending motion used while hiking. Pushing through one leg to stand entirely upright on the box is very similar to hiking up a rocky trail, stepping up on a rock. Box step ups are easily modified to your current ability by changing the height of the box. You can also prepare for steeper hikes which require more hip flexion by gradually working your way to a taller box. Slowly lower yourself down from the top of the box to mimic the motion of descending a steep climb.


A staple in many core routines, the plank works on core stability, or in other words, your core’s ability to maintain posture while doing an activity. This is crucial while spending hours on a trail with a pack – regardless of the pack size. There are many plank variations, each of which can be used to increase your core stability leading into fall hiking season.

Stair Climber:

If you are training cardio indoors, choose the stair climber as a machine which closely resembles the mechanics of hiking. Each step forces you to raise your body weight, similar to the effect of hiking up a trail. If you are looking to keep your training outdoors, the grandstands of a local outdoor stadium can have the same effect!

Day of the Hike

Maximize your enjoyment while hiking by being prepared going into your hike. Eat an appropriate meal prior, dress for the weather, and pack snacks and water to last while you are on the trail. Start out slow on the trail, gradually warming up as you go. Stop to stretch if needed. Listen to your body’s needs along the hike, and ensure that you are replacing any lost fluids.

While the solitude of getting out on the trails might be what you are looking for, a hike can be safer and more enjoyable if you venture out with friends, family, or find a group. This fall, the Greater Burlington YMCA will lead progressively more challenging hikes on Saturday mornings at 10am over the course of seven weeks. Learn more at

Ryan Grey is Assistant Director of Fitness at the Greater Burlington YMCA. He holds a BS in Exercise Science from the University of Vermont and is a certified personal trainer. To learn more about fitness, including personal training, at the YMCA, contact Ryan at rgrey [at] or call 802-652-8183.

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